If you’re feeling inspired after watching the excitement of a NASCAR race, or maybe frustrated because you think you could do better (hint: it’s not likely!), why not have a go at it yourself! You won’t be able to go into a high-performance division like NASCAR straight away, but who knows – you may find you have an undiscovered talent. At the very least you’ll have a lot of fun, and a better understanding of what it’s like to be a racing driver.
On the start line
Don’t make the mistake of getting carried away by seeing ads for high-powered 600 bhp automotive monsters and blow your savings on the fastest car you can find. When you begin racing, you want to start with a much more modestly powered engine, because you need to learn how to handle the car at a more manageable speed to ensure you’re able to drive safely with increased horsepower. Have a look at the different types of affordable motorsport that are available to amateurs first, to see which most appeals and what is available locally to you.
There are many different forms of motorsport, but some are particularly popular and easily accessible for beginners:
- Hillclimbing, one of the oldest of motorsports that takes place, as the name suggests, on an inclined course with tricky turns and angles. There are classes for many different types of cars from full-on racing cars to superminis to classics and motorcycles. Participants run in batches, usually, a practice or two first, followed by around three timed runs.
- Autocross, which takes place on airfields or large parking lots and consists of a course marked out with cones, around which the drivers must race to see who can achieve the fastest time without knocking into any of the obstacles.
- Rallycross takes place on a dirt track where speeds are slower and the surface conditions make for an adrenaline-fuelled ride.
- Track or road racing can take many different forms, from races for specific classes of cars or engine capacities to sprints, where each car is timed to see who can go the fastest rather than all racing at once.
- Rallying is real high-octane experience, racing across a set course on roads or forest tracks, sometimes in the snow. It’s another timed event, so each driver sets off around the course in an attempt to beat the clock, and there are entry-level classes for novices.
Read the rules for the sport you’d like to try to make sure you are eligible, and you don’t have any health restrictions. You may be required to provide a medical statement from your doctor if you are over a certain age or have health issues that could affect your ability to drive safely. There are also banned substances that you need to be aware of, and you need to be familiar with any limitations on the car’s specification. Work out a budget for your selected activity, bearing in mind that it will need to cover more than just the cost of buying the car. You will need overalls, helmet, gloves, and shoes, and they will all need to meet specified safety standards. You need to budget for licenses, race entries, club memberships and the cost of fuel for the races. You could well need special safety equipment like a roll cage and fire extinguishers. There will also be ongoing maintenance costs, new parts, fresh sets of tires and the sky is the limit if you want to start updating your car with better brakes, air filters, exhausts, suspension and so on. You will need tools and equipment such as trolley jacks, socket wrenches, compressors for checking and adjusting tire pressures and potentially many more. You could need to carry a second set of wheels in case the track condition changes – you won’t be able to race very safely on a wet track with tires designed for dry conditions. Many competitors enlist family or friends to drive a “support” vehicle to transport all the equipment, which can make life much easier, as well as making it more of a social event. If you are looking for storage options for your tools and equipment, this website has a range of suitable options.
Get yourself along to some events as a spectator. You might want to do this right at the start if you are undecided about which is the right sport for you, or you haven’t attended events for a specific motorsport before. Being ringside as a spectator will give you a real feel for what the sport is about, how it is organized and what the atmosphere is like. You may be able to walk around the pits and speak to other drivers, which is a great way of gaining some real insight into the sport. Drivers and their helpers are usually only too pleased to offer advice and share their experience with newbies, so don’t be afraid to ask. You can also get involved as a volunteer.
Many circuits and clubs run special training days for anyone who wishes to start in motorsport. It’s extremely helpful to participate in training days, as the reality of racing is very different to driving on the roads – even if you are a bit of a speed demon! At a driving school day, you will learn not only the safe and fast way to handle your car, but you will learn how to drive the track and the rules of racing etiquette, i.e., when you can go for an overtake and when you can’t.
When you are called to the start line of your first race, the adrenaline will be surging, your heart will be pumping, and you will be feeling a combination of fear and anticipation. At the end of your first run, most of the fear will be gone, replaced by the determination to drive better in the next race, get past your nearest rival or post a faster time. The thrill of motorsports is addictive and compelling, and well worth the input of time and money. Just beware the inner mechanic who is urging you to invest in a bigger turbo or a set of forged pistons – you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a good time, but there’s no shortage of tweaks and modifications you could try in the pursuit of victory!